Today's review roundup includes: Petrosino, Freeman's, Pace, Sabry's, Kalustyan's Cafe, Ixta.
NYTimes Restaurants Frank Bruni gives Petrosino two stars (190 Norfolk Street; 212-673-3773):
In these crazy, carbohydrate-phobic times, many restaurants do not know what to do with bread service, which has come to approximate an apology: a few pathetic rolls on a distant corner of the table; a tentative server with outstretched tongs and a poignantly timid smile. Petrosino throws caution to the wind. It provides a brimming paper bag of ciabatta and focaccia and a bowl of tomato sauce for each diner, encouraging everyone to dip away.
In the process Petrosino sends the signal that is has no airs (or at least very few of them) and indeed cares first and foremost about sating you: perhaps with a plate of tissue-thin prosciutto or with a bowl of mussels or with a moist mound of braised beef over creamy polenta. Its decorative flourishes reflect not pretentiousness but a desire for prettiness. Why not tickle the eye as well as the stomach?
Petrosino is sensible that way: eager to please, intent on making special, thoughtful gestures within the context of moderate prices and a modest Lower East Side location. (The hot zone of Schiller's Liquor Bar and WD-50 is a few crucial blocks away.)
. . . And I really like the food here, especially in relation to its price. Most of the half-dozen pasta dishes cost $13, which buys a generous portion, and two-thirds of those dishes are terrific.
The garganelli with prosciutto, peas and cream leans just hard enough on the prosciutto and just easy enough on the cream to be pleasantly salty but not unpleasantly soupy. The rigatoni with Italian sausage and peas was another standout — also robust, also restrained. The trofiette with shiitake mushrooms, truffle butter and Parmesan is recommended primarily for diners who have just completed triathlons or a long grub-noshing stint on the latest "Survivor."
Petrosino's chef, Patrick Nuti, who grew up and learned to cook in Tuscany, does not really favor any region of Italy over another. He occasionally borrows ideas from elsewhere around the Mediterranean. He pairs a Greek yogurt and cucumber sauce with a fillet of wild salmon for an entree. He puts couscous in a colorful and delightful appetizer salad of octopus and grapefruit.
RECOMMENDED DISHES Octopus salad with grapefruit; walnut-encrusted scallops; prosciutto plate; cavatelli with veal ragout; rigatoni with sausage and peas; garganelli with prosciutto and peas; ricotta cheesecake with Nutella.
NYTimes $25 and Under reviews Freeman's (End of Freeman Alley, off Rivington Street between Bowery and Chrystie; 212-420-0012):
It took vision to anticipate the quiet exhilaration of abruptly exiting the street, shaking off the crosstown foot traffic and heading up a foreboding alley that, no matter how many times you walked the block, you never noticed before. It's the feeling New Yorkers, admittedly or not, live for: being in on a secret.
. . . The décor is an odd mix: woodwork, tables and paintings that evoke Colonial America; walls that look as if they've breathed in a thousand French cigarettes; taxidermy to make a hunting lodge proud. The cumulative effect is transporting, though not to anywhere specific, and that may just be the point. The menu, which was overseen (meaning "created but not cooked") by Chloe Osborne of Café Gitane, also eludes easy classification.
BEST DISHES Stilton-stuffed prunes; hot artichoke dip; cold chicken curry soup; chicken, avocado and corn salad; macaroni and cheese; poached chicken; roasted trout; all desserts.
NYPost Steve Cuozzo gives Pace two and a half stars (121 Hudson Street; 212-965-9500):
But things are for real where it matters: on the plate. Pace modestly describes its sprawling menu as "simple Italian." Of course, "simple" does not mean easy. Although the lineup includes the crudo a place needs to be trendy, the kitchen mostly aspires to the herbally attuned, regional-rustic virtuosity of more expensive 'Cesca, L'Impero and Fiamma.
And executive chef Joey Campanaro pulls it off. Even with clinkers like pan-baked cod ($20) that is "baccala" in name only, and tough duck and veal cheeks that seemed tossed onto pasta at the last minute, Pace is already flirting with three stars.
The kitchen does so many things so well, it's tantalizing to wonder how good reasonably priced Pace might be in just another few months.
It stirs risotto, bargain-priced at $9-$15, to the elusive toothsome-creamy tension that makes the dish so prized. Don't miss the heart-stoppingly rich version with porcini mushrooms and shaved black truffles, or "bianco" (white) with long Parmesan ribbons that melt into a buttery sea. . .
Village Voice Robert Sietsema reviews Sabry's (24–25 Steinway Street, Astoria, Queens; 718-721-9010):
What kind of place, you wonder, serves pitas and pastas simultaneously? Just across the street from the ornate Al Imam mosque, in a neighborhood where hookahs are as common as parking meters, and roughly the same size, Sabry's is a Steinway Street Egyptian café specializing in seafood. Unlike the Egyptian fish market-cum-fish fry stores of Sunset Park, Sabry's takes its cue from the Astorian Greeks. The sea bass, porgy, snappers, and mullets lie resplendent on a bed of ice as you enter a room decorated with Middle Eastern tile and stone motifs. Open French doors catch breezes from the street, making you feel like the seaside is just around the corner. You can almost smell the salt water.
In the open kitchen that runs along one side of the dining room, fish can be done three ways: grilled, deep-fried, or oven-roasted, the latter clearly a favorite of the chef. The urbane waiter, who holds a white towel over his arm like European waiters of long ago, prefers roasting too. This is a particularly good idea when it comes to the porgy and sea bass ($14.95 and $18.95, respectively). The fish are rubbed with spices and their cavities filled with a puree of garlic, herbs, and lemon, which radiates flavors throughout the flesh. The stuck-up sardines, who refuse to party on ice with the other fish, are available nonetheless, arriving crusty with cumin and dotted with slices of lemon. At seven for $10.95, they make a good shareable entrée, especially if you like the slightly skanky flavor of good sardines.
NY Mag reviews Kalustyan's Cafe (115 Lexington Avenue; 212-686-5400):
The food is “Indian-influenced,” as opposed to Indian, which means the waitresses bring little wheels of nan bread flecked with rosemary to the table, and flat, buttered corn-bread rotis that taste like a not entirely happy marriage between pita bread and a corn-bread taco. To whet the appetite, there are pastries stuffed with curry and coriander-flavored chicken (with a yogurt-and-cilantro dipping sauce), and helpings of peppery tandoori shrimp and thyme-flavored pieces of chicken tikka, both served on swanky glass trays shaped like long bars of soap.
The architect of these interesting dishes is Mohan Ismail, who joins the mini Kalustyan empire after stints at Spice Market and the Indian fusion restaurant Tabla. Every cook grapples with the urge to embroider his recipes with too many spices, but Ismail does a solid job of displaying the impressive variety of the Kalustyan catalogue without sending his customers bolting for the exits. Who knew that grilled skate wing went nicely with a hot, red smear of sambal (it’s a paste of crushed chilies popular in Southeast Asia), or that chunks of veal taste very fine braised in a tame tomato version of curry vindaloo? As for the frik, it’s tossed with raisins, slices of green pistachio, and myriad other exotic Kalustyan products, then served under lemony slices of duck breast. The Urfa biber is one ingredient in a complicated and quite delicious chicken entrée composed of two pieces of oven- baked chicken laid over a savory brown mash of what appear to be lentils but are in fact eight different varieties of nuts, seasoned with an intricate collection of chilies from around the globe.
NY Mag also reviews Ixta (48 East 29th Street; 212-683-4833):
As at Kalustyan’s, the chef, Linda Japngie, has an experimental, internationalist bent, although instead of attempting to incorporate all the spices in the known world into her menu, she focuses her talents on the food of Mexico. Which means you can choose from an addling array of bright, very sweet tequila drinks (the restaurant also advertises itself as a tequila bar), before picking through an assortment of Nuevo Mexicano treats like shredded-chicken tamales (with salsa verde), soft round chalupas layered with grilled mushrooms and crumblings of goat cheese, and little madeleinelike quesadillas shaped like half-moons and stuffed with squash blossoms.